The TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline is an important and long-sought after project for the four countries involved, however it is in an unstable region of the world. What is the likelihood that it will encounter security challenges in the future?
Putting The TAPI Pipeline In Context
The location of the TAPI pipeline gives important signals about the countries participating in the laying out and planning of it. The location of the pipeline will also influence the future cooperation between the four countries. The chosen route of the pipeline shows what challenges the four countries are coping with. The route of the pipeline is not an optimal line. Some divergences from the line of shortest distance are due to the terrain and natural objects, such as the forested areas in eastern Afghanistan.
Others come from unsolved political and military problems. In Afghanistan, the pipeline bypasses central Afghanistan, and was instead laid in western area of the country. This layout is because of Taliban’s influence in the central region of the country, and insurgents who are supporting the now defunct Daesh (ISIS).
In Pakistan, the area of western and central Balochistan has not been used because of political instability as well. However, Balochistan province in Pakistan—long known for insurgent and terrorist activities—will have some of the pipeline pass through it. A reason for it could be the improving security state and the dire need for gas connections in that region.
The TAPI pipeline’s connecting pipes will join neighboring regions in gaining better and cheaper access to fuel. The areas of countries which the pipeline will cross will also get more internal power due to the important infrastructure line going through them. The increased internal power shouldn’t cause many security problems, as the benefits from the TAPI pipeline far outweigh any potential downsides.
The TAPI pipeline is, without a doubt, a large move forward in terms of partnership between Central and South Asian countries. This fact stays true even when the mutual participation of India and Pakistan is excluded from consideration.
TAPI To Give Bilateral Boost
Politically, the TAPI pipeline will strengthen bilateral relations, provide opportunities for increasing state revenues, and modify the balance of power in the region. A connection with a pipeline means that at least neutral relations need to be kept between the countries connected by it. Neutral or better relations are required to ensure the successful functioning of the pipe without any breaks or interruptions. This will create more opportunities for mutual engagement between the countries of the TAPI as they work towards this common goal. A new opportunity for mutual engagement is essential, as the bilateral relations between several countries involved the pipeline, such as Afghanistan-Pakistan and India-Pakistan, aren’t particularly friendly at this time.
Joint projects, rounds of negotiations and agreements with other parties will improve the negotiating skills of the parties participating in them and bring new ideas to the table. For internally and externally-faced government institutions of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, the three decades of negotiations concerning the TAPI pipeline have been an exercise on how to push forward against significant political and financial challenges.
How Much Gas Will TAPI Move?
The TAPI pipeline will transport 33 billion cubic meters of gas every year. This number is over 30 billion cubic meters larger than the annual consumption in Afghanistan. However, quantities that exceed that amount by 12 and 22 billion cubic meters are consumed annually in Pakistan and India, respectively. Even if unequal, the amount of gas transferred through the pipeline will bring a new step forward for the energy markets of these countries.
The revenues for transit countries from the TAPI pipeline is one of the more visible benefits. Not only will the TAPI pipeline connect countries with lower access to natural gas to ones with vast natural gas reserves (Turkmenistan), it will also create a system of paying transit fees, and additional revenues for the countries receiving them.
Who Pays Who?
India will pay TAPI transit fees to Pakistan, which in turn will pay them to Afghanistan. For Afghanistan, the revenue from the transit fee for the pipeline will total just over 1 percent of the country’s GDP. That’s a great deal when Turkmenistan is meeting difficulties with securing financing (such as negotiations not being concluded in over two years), and the pipeline is helping to bring additional funds to a country torn between the government and insurgents.
The idea of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline has always included solely the four countries. Nevertheless, another major regional player had also expressed interest in the past. The country has been Iran, which has completed construction on the first part of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, and has offered a gas swap deal to Turkmenistan. While the Iran-Pakistan pipeline project could have become a strong contender to the TAPI, now it is moving to becoming a complimentary connection between western to south Asia.
No Evident Environmental Opposition To TAPI
The most common opposition to gas pipelines generally comes from environmentalist groups. Local residents of the areas which the lines cross are also often opposed to the laying of the pipes. In the case of TAPI opposition to it non-existent at least at the present time.
In fact, Afghanistan’s Taliban could’ve have been the main opposition against the pipeline. The pipeline will go through Taliban-controlled areas, and the revenues from gas transit will go to the Afghan government. Yet, the opposition to the TAPI from the Taliban has never formed. It is very likely that Taliban will expect payments for the transit of the gas from Taliban-controlled areas, and as insurance money for not disrupting the flow of gas. Official statements made by the Taliban demonstrate their support for the project. Moreover Pakistan—as a party to the TAPI pipeline—has more than enough power to influence the Taliban’s decisions. Nevertheless, there have already been doubts about the Taliban’s motivation for supporting the pipeline.
From the potentially most vocal opposition—Afghanistan’s Taliban—a decision to accept the laying of the pipes is close to a security guarantee. The Taliban is known for attacking important buildings and infrastructure in Afghanistan as a way to attack the central government. The current relationship between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s government is strained to say the least. The developing Taliban-USA peace deal should be a further incentive to not sabotage the operations of the TAPI.
Insurgent Concerns In Turkmenistan And Pakistan
The presence of militant groups in the four countries also can compromise the security state of the pipeline. Multiple insurgent groups operate in Pakistani and Indian regions which the TAPI pipeline will go through. Nonetheless, they could become less of threat through decreasing poverty and increasing economic growth in the region. This could indeed be the case, since poverty has been confirmed to be the primary cause for terrorism in the region.
Returning Turkmen militants from Syria could become the most serious problem. Limited response capabilities of the country’s security services and porous borders, have been found to be some of the most serious security problems facing the country and region as they plot to organize attacks. However, the TAPI is a very much needed step for export destination diversification for Turkmenistan’s government. Turkmenistan’s difficult economic state —with gas being the main export of the country—will push the Turkmen government to put the security of the pipeline first, especially, when it contributes to the diversification of gas export destinations.
External militarized groups and neighboring sovereign states are the least likely security challenges. Attacks from foreign terrorists in the four countries aren’t common, even if that threat is growing. Although some of the four states have strained relationships with their neighbors—such as India’s relationship with China—they are not at the level of sabotage and incursion. Far more conflict potential lies in intra-TAPI relations, rather than with countries not party to the TAPI.
Ensuring Infrastructure Security
The security challenges will have similar impacts on the four countries of the TAPI. For all four countries the security challenges will increase the attention that is needed in terms of ensuring infrastructure security. They won’t present new threats, but will require additional resources—particularly in Afghanistan. Organizing additional military presences and security measures near the pipeline could become a challenge to the country, considering its military is already engaged in a conflict with the Taliban and armed insurgent groups.
Security challenges affecting the TAPI pipeline are almost inevitable. Even if they are inevitable, however, the benefits the pipeline has brought and will bring should reduce their impact and are a cause for optimism.